Rob Edgar has been attending the rehearsals for the premiere of a new, theatrical version of the composer James Francis Brown’s ‘Prospero’s Isle’ played by cellist / actor / baritone Matthew Sharp and pianist Clare Hammond. It will be performed on the opening night of Sharp’s RE:naissance festival at Kings Place on Thursday 1st May. He writes:
To be privy to the inner workings of a new piece, to observe high-quality musicians take apart a score and rebuild it has been a truly rewarding experience.
Composer James Francis Brown is aiming to bring together music and drama in a manner similar to the English Renaissance. He has reworked his piece for cello and piano (based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest) to incorporate lines (spoken by Sharp) from the play. It is intensely dramatic music, and convincingly maps the psychology of Prospero: his jealousy, bitterness, manipulation; his eventual catharsis of forgiveness and relinquishing of his powers.
Hammond and Sharp have clearly taken a great deal of time over the music: they were teasing out the various intermingling lines and exploring the potential of each bar. Sharp’s sound on the cello is rich and sonorous which lends itself well to the frequent deep double stops at the lower end of the instrument, but he also has a singing quality which lends itself well to the higher-register passages depicting Ariel. Hammond is a consummate pianist who gives each voice a remarkable clarity and brilliance, her control over dynamics is impeccable, and she manages to combine complete accuracy with depth and flair. Special mention has to go to Sharp’s ability to recite dialogue charged with emotion and character whilst simultaneously playing phrases on his instrument which interweave with the piano, everything in perfect sympathy.
There was a fascinating semi dress-rehearsal (without the visuals and sound effects courtesy of Sound Collective, that we will see and hear on Thursday). Unlike Shakespeare’s Caliban, I can’t look forward to “a thousand twangling instruments [that] will hum about mine ears’. But I have to admit that I am excited by the prospect of the performers of Prospero’s Isle responding to the energy of a live audience, and the “sea-change into something rich and strange” that performance imparts.